Walking on water

Officials open promenade along Laurel Hill Park riverfront

Following a ribbon cutting on April 5, a group of residents and government workers took a walk on the new waterfront promenade that had just opened at Secaucus’ Laurel Hill Park.

The U-shaped walkway, which joins the park on Dinosaur Way to the waterfront, will contain or lead to new fishing stations, an existing dog park, and other amenities. County Executive Tom DeGise, who was at the ceremony, said that officials are still considering other ideas, like building tennis courts. The park is also close to the Xchange residential/retail complex that is still expanding, and near the future site of the new Hudson County Schools of Technology campus.

The county park was expanded using $1.25 million in funds from a legal settlement in 2010. The settlement was a result of litigation brought by Hackensack Riverkeeper and Jersey City Interfaith Council in 2003 against Honeywell International, which forced the company to remove chromium contamination from land it purchased near the mouth of the Hackensack River.

Workers and officials from Honeywell International, Hudson County Improvement Authority, and Hackensack Riverkeeper came to the ribbon cutting along with Mayor Michael Gonnelli and former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli, the court-appointed Special Master to the case.

The addition to the park took 20 months to finish including concept, design, and construction. It’s compliant of the Americans with Disabilities Act, allowing easy access for people using wheelchairs.

Fish, but don’t eat

While fishing stations have been set up, they come with a caveat – don’t eat the fish.

Officials said at the event – and the signs on the promenade reinforce – that fishermen and women only fish for sport and then release the fish, in compliance with NJ’s Catch and Release policy which restricts fishers to eat any fish or animal caught in the Hackensack River in order to avoid illness or spread of disease. Honeywell is still cleaning up the river in hopes of removing the policy.

“100 years ago Hudson County was designed for a place of industry. Now it’s a place to enjoy living and recreation.” – HCIA Chairman Frank Pertana

Mayor Gonnelli said, “This could be the most beautiful park in the county and it hasn’t had a lot of attention.” He imagines plenty of new activities and recreation at the new walkway, like an additional annual fishing derby similar to the one that takes place at the Duck Pond.

Captain Bill Sheehan, executive director of Hackensack Riverkeeper, the nonprofit environmental advocacy group, directed a total of $2.5 million from Honeywell into the county’s Community Benefit Fund, half of which funded the Laurel Hill Park project with the other half to be spent on environmental improvements at the former Roosevelt Drive-In site in Jersey City. In both situations, Sheehan and his organization were directing how the monies are spent so as to benefit Hudson County residents.

Lawyers from the Washington, DC office of Terris, Pravlik, & Millian were in attendance at the event.

Speakers at the ribboncutting referred to the river enduring 100 years of neglect. Chairman of Hudson County Improvement Authority Frank Pertana said, “100 years ago Hudson County was designed for a place of industry. Now it’s a place to enjoy living and recreation.”

DeGise said, “It took 100 years to ruin this river, after not worrying about healthy environments, and now we’re going to get it back in a generation with these politicians. We’re going to erase the abuse, and in generations people won’t remember what this once was.”

DeGise also complimented the complex design and hard work from the government and volunteer citizens, and said, “This is a model for the country.”

The HCIA and Hackensack Riverkeeper proved they “do more than just clean-up,” HCIA Chief Executive Norman Guerra said.

He said everyone is looking forward to keeping the river, natural resources, and wildlife clean and protected. 

Samantha Meyers can be reached at samantham@hudsonreporter.com .

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